President Paul Kagame has improved people’s lives at the expense of freedom

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President Paul Kagame has improved people’s lives at the expense of freedom

Mar 4th 2010 | NAIROBI | From The Economist print edition

Kagame, progressive and repressive

kagame-copy-1THE government of Rwanda is doing a lot of things right. It is pretty open in its handling of aid money. Most foreign governments and charities are so impressed by its detailed plans and apparent lack of corruption that they are funnelling more of their aid directly through Rwanda’s government. President Paul Kagame says he expects direct budget support to rise by a quarter this year, to $519m.

The country has recovered valiantly from its year zero in 1994, when 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. Its centralised state is leading the way in economic and technological reform in the region. It is improving the country’s infrastructure, education and farming, and seeks to preserve its ecology. It pushes equality for women, who comprise half the government and parliament.

On the diplomatic front, Mr Kagame has been equally successful. He has sent troops to help keep the peace in Sudan’s Darfur province and elsewhere. He has stood up to mighty France, blaming it, as the region’s then most influential Western power, for failing to prevent the genocide. And last month the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, came to Rwanda and offered something close to an apology. France, he said, had committed “grave errors of judgment” before, during, and after the genocide. Questions linger about the role of French special forces during the killing, as well as the fate of Hutus living in France whom Rwanda wants extradited on suspicion of involvement in the genocide.

France, for its part, has not dropped charges against some members of Mr Kagame’s government who are alleged to have ordered the shooting down of a French aircraft carrying Rwanda’s then president, Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu; that action triggered the genocide. Yet both countries now appear more at ease with each other. Days after Mr Sarkozy’s visit, Mr Habyarimana’s widow, Agathe, was arrested near Paris (and then freed on bail) for questioning over her alleged role in the genocide. French businessmen came in Mr Sarkozy’s slipstream, eyeing minerals and timber in neighbouring Congo, for which Rwanda is a conduit. “There is no doubt this is a reconciliation,” says a Rwandan government figure.

Yet awkward question-marks hang over Mr Kagame and his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front. The president’s detractors say his party has not owned up to killing thousands of civilians immediately after the genocide or to responsibility for causing much bloodshed in Congo, which it invaded in order to hunt down the génocidaires who had fled there. The Congolese government, it may be noted, has co-operated with the Rwandans in their more recent incursions into Congo.

Mr Kagame and his government are stifling political and press freedom in advance of a presidential election due in August. He is almost certain to win but evidently he is determined to secure a big majority to implement his “one Rwanda” policies. Opposition parties have been forbidden to “use words or facts that defame other politicians”. In practice, the government can label any criticism against it as “divisionism”, which entitles it to lock up the offenders. Members of the opposition say they are spied on and bullied.

It is unclear whether the government will let the Democratic Green Party, a feisty new opposition group, be registered. If not, the Greens say they will back another lot, the Socialist Party-Imberakuri, which should be able to run a presidential candidate. The head of a third opposition party, the United Democratic Forces-Inkingi, Victoire Ingabire, says she has been vilified since returning from exile in January. The government, she says, has encouraged people to assault her, accusing her of being a génocidaire. This week a former military intelligence chief, Kayumba Nyamwasa, who was reported to have joined the Greens, fled Rwanda and is said to be claiming asylum in South Africa. The government says he is wanted on criminal charges—presumably divisionism.

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